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Legally Speaking

Article 1 -- A Congressional Balancing Act

07/01/2007 - In my last article, I discussed how the three branches of government work together to form a flexible balance of power that basically gives our government the ability to adapt to the changing times. This month I want to examine the first three sections of Article One of the Constitution of the United States and discuss how these sections impact our lives.

Article One establishes the powers and authority of Congress. It consists of ten sections. This month I will only discuss the first three sections.

Section One states:

"All Legislative Powers herein granted shall be vested in a congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and a House of Representatives."

This may seem like a simple enough statement but, in essence, is a tremendously brilliant compromise which, like the balance of power found among the three brances of government, creates a balance of power among the states. To understand the genius behind Section 1 of Article One we need to discuss some common sense history.

When the Constitution was being drafted there were representatives from 13 individual governments trying to form a pact to function as a single entity, the United States of America. Some of those states had strong economies and large populations while others were very poor and had small populations. Every state had different goals and economic structures. The southern states were more rural in nature while the northern states relied more on manufacturing. Like 13 kids at a picnic with only so much food, each state was jockeying to be in the best possible position to prosper. If you've ever been in the position of trying to get 13 kids to agree on anything, you can appreciate the enormity of the challenge.

Sections 2 and 3 of Article One establish the two branches of Congress, the House of Representatives and the Senate. Again, a little common sense would dictate that the states with larger populations felt that they should have more say in the government than the smaller states. As you might guess, the small states liked the one state, one vote idea. In order to balance these 2 interests, the drafters of the Constitution gave both of these factions a benefit.

Section 2 of Article One of the U.S. Constitution sets out that the number of representatives each state would have in the House of Representatives would be based on population. The states like Virginia with large populations have more representatives and voting power than the states with smaller populations like Rhode Island.

Section 3 of Article One sets out that the number of Senate members that each state would have was based on the one state, two member equation. Thus each state has equal voting powers in the Senate.

Sections 2 and 3 of Article One describe how the members of each of these bodies would be elected, what qualifications each member would have and, basically, what the leadership structure of each legislative body would be.

It's rather fun to read the first three sections of Article One and wonder what the drafters of the Constitution were thinking. If you take a look at this part of the Constitution, ask yourself why a member of the House of Representatives need only be 25 and a citizen for 7years, while a Senator had to be 30 and a citizen for 9 years? Ask yourself why "Indians" and "Others" were counted differently in establishing a state's population?

If you want to get the old gray matter stirring, skip a night of Jay Leno and take a look at Sections 1, 2 and 3 of Article One of our Constitution and imagine the forces at work in the drafting of this beautiful document.

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